Jane Johnson was juggling a couple of boiling pots on the stovetop when the clock above the kitchen table hit five-to-seven. She turned the knobs for the stove top to a lower heat then wiped the side of her forehead to her sleeve. “John!” Jane screamed from the kitchen as she turned to the clock on the opposite wall. “Show starts in five minutes!”
John came jogging up the steps from the basement. He was a rather handsome man, near his forties, but still in relatively good shape and a full head of hair. John worked a typical office job, nine to five, that he did not care for too much. People might consider him a man’s man, someone that guys could relate to and like, a guy that would go out and grab a beer after work – which he typically did. But not on Mondays, because he was also a husband and father, and Mondays were family nights. He kissed his wife on the cheek and looked into the boiling pots. “Smells good, hun. What’re we having?”
Jane was “Same thing we have every Monday.”
“Chicken and potatoes. My favorite.” John grabbed himself a beer from the fridge and hustled into the living room to prepare for his show. He picked up the remote and flipped through several commercials.
“What channel is it again?”
“Channel thirteen! OW!” The heat of a pot went through the oven mitt on Jane’s hand and she dropped the pot back onto the stovetop. She was on her way to rinse it in cold water when John interrupted her plan.
Jane held the burn to her lips, sucking on it, then blowing cool air to soothe it. She was now more interested in the show. “What’s happening?”
John was sitting with his feet up, beer in hand, and his eyes fixed on the television screen. It so happened that on the television was the same thing: John sitting in the living room with his feet up, beer in hand. His wife, Jane, was standing in the archway to the kitchen behind him.
“Did I miss anything?” Jane asked, watching herself appear in the living room archway on the television screen.
“Yeah. You just burned yourself making dinner!”
Jane laughed. “Gosh, I’m so clumsy. I should really put ice on it. What are you doing?”
“It looks like I’m just watching t.v.”
“What’s new, huh?” They both laughed at the husband’s laziness. The sound of the sizzling of over-boiling water made Jane stop laughing. “Shoot! The potatoes!”
On the television screen Jane ran back into the kitchen, pushing past a man with a camera on his shoulder and another with a sound boom, to the stove.
“It looks like you forgot about the potatoes!” John shouted to his wife running back to tend to the over-boiling pot. John watched as the camera panned around the side of the stove to get a better view of his wife. She quickly removed the pot and turned another stove dial down. Sweat poured down her forehead as she looked around for what to do next. “You got everything under control in there?”
Jane quick swung around with a pan of fried chicken on it. She bumped into the sound man behind her and the pan fell to the floor like thunder. “Shit!” she muttered under her breath. She let her shoulders fall in defeat. “Yeah, everything is under control!” she called back to her husband. A roar of laughter from the living room followed.
John came rushing into the kitchen. The camera man let his camera down to a more comfortable position as he stretched his back. The sound man rested his boom against the wall and helped himself to a glass of water.
“What was so funny?” Jane asked with her head to the floor.
“Oh, you missed it. You just dropped the dinner on the floor. Damn commercials. They always come at the worst times.” John suddenly realized the mess on the floor and his wife on her knees cleaning it up. “What happened here?”
“I bumped into the sound guy and dropped the pan of chicken.”
John looked at the sound man who gave an indifferent shrug. A perplexed look came over John’s face.
“How did you bump into the sound guy?”
“I don’t. I just did, okay?”
“Well, what are we going to eat for dinner?”
Jane looked at her husband with a furrowed brow. “Chicken. Now, would you please help me pick this stuff up?” John didn’t move. He looked at his wife, then at the camera man, then at the chicken on the floor. John thought about how to respond to the situation. He began to talk, then composed himself to think it over again. From the living room the sound of a commercial prevented an uncomfortable silence between the two.
“…so next time bring home “Real T.V. Dinners,” the choice of your favorite t.v. family, The Johnsons.”
John had turned to watch the commercial. A smile crossed his face as though he figured out the solution to the present problem. “Hey, maybe we should go get some of those t.v. dinners like on the commercial. They say it’s our favorite.”
Jane looked up with an eyebrow raised. “I’m not sure I’ve ever had one. Have you?”
John’s smile vanished. “I’m not sure. Should I check the freezer?”
“No, the chicken is fine. Now please help me pick it up.”
John did not budge. The camera man picked up his camera and aimed it at the couple. The sound boom hovered above them. Neither John nor Jane were watching, but on the television screen in the living room John and Jane were on the verge of an argument. John was standing over his wife with his hands on his hips and Jane had stopped cleaning up the mess to return the pose.
“You expect me to eat food off the floor for dinner?” John conjured up words with a hint of surprise and much more dissatisfaction in his tone.
“You can or you don’t have to. I do expect you to help me clean this up, however.” The camera zoomed in on Jane’s face, then it panned to John’s reaction. The tension was such that other viewers were sure to be on edge just like the Johnsons.
“Hey! I’m home!” came a voice from off camera. John and Jane quickly composed themselves and went to the living room. Their son, Joe, was plopped down on the love seat, watching them come into the room.
“Hey Joey!” they both sang as they came in. John saw his family on the television screen. “Oh, we’re back on!”
“Yeah, were you guys just fighting?”
John and Jane froze and looked at each other with raised eyebrows. The camera man moved around to get their expressions. Jane shrugged to her husband.
“Us? No. We weren’t fighting,” John said with a nervous laugh. “Were we honey?”
Jane wrapped her arm around her husband’s waist and let his arm fall over her shoulders. “No, never. Your father and I were just discussing some things.” John hugged his wife tighter, pushing out an even more forced smile.
Joe’s eyes were on the television screen. “Okay, whatever.”
The ring of timer in the kitchen broke the couple apart. “Op! Dinner’s done!” Jane announced as she scampered back into the kitchen.
“What are we eating?”
“The usual. Just make your mother happy and eat it,” John muttered to his son. The television cut to commercial and John made his way for the kitchen.
“Ah! Commercial already,” Joe whined. He rolled off the couch and followed his dad into the kitchen. Jane was setting the last pot on the kitchen table. John picked up a stray piece of chicken and tossed it into the garbage next to the camera man who was smoking a cigarette in the corner. His eyes followed the chicken into the garbage. He made a sour face then took another drag. Joe came bouncing into the room and hopped into his usual seat.
“Alright, dig in,” Jane announced as she removed her apron and took her seat. All three went for a dish. John grabbed the potatoes first. Jane took the green beans. Joe took a wing of chicken and tossed it on his plate.
“Hey,” Joe said after taking a second look at his chicken wing. “Why is there breading missing from the chicken?”
“Don’t worry about it…”
“Your mother dropped the chicken on the floor.”
Jane shot her husband a look across the table. He shrugged and slopped some green beans onto his plate.
“The chicken was on the floor?”
“The chicken is fine,” Jane insisted. “I cleaned it off, just eat it.”
“But Dad’s not!”
“I am not eating floor chicken,” John said definitely. He kept his eyes on his wife’s, refusing to back down. From the corner of his sight he saw the camera man slowly pan his way around the table.
“Just eat it.”
“If Dad’s not, I’m not.”
The echo of Jane’s shouting came from the television in the living room.
“We’re back on!” Joe said as he hopped out of his chair with a plate of food, minus the chicken, and ran into the living room. John also moved his chair back to leave.
“You better not go out there,” Jane warned.
In the living room, Joe sat on the couch with his food on the table in front of him. He mechanically brought food to his mouth, his eyes never leaving the television screen. His parents were on it. They were at a cliffhanging moment in the episode. John was standing, poised to leave the dinner table. His wife had just warned him to stay and eat with her.
“You better set an example for your son,” Jane continued. “Tell him to get back in here and eat with his family.”
John looked up at the ceiling. He ran his hand down his face. “Hun, is it really that big of a deal?”
“It’s not just this! We need to be on the same page on these things. I don’t want to always be the bad guy.”
John remained stoic. He quietly analyzed the situation in his head.
“You better not go out there,” she warned again.
John broke his distant stare and looked directly at her. “Or else what?”
Jane kept her arms crossed and her glare fixed on her husband. John returned the glare, then, grabbing his plate, turned to go into the living room.
John came up behind his son whose eyes were solemnly fixed on the television screen. On it was his wife. Her head was buried in her hands as the camera pulled in tighter. She tried to shield herself, but the camera found her tear-filled eyes.
John was intrigued and continued to watch until the screen went black and credits began to roll. He stared at the television with a furrowed brow. The two sat in silence, deaf to the sound of sobs from the other room, digesting what they just watched. Finally, John turned to his son and plainly asked, “What did I miss?”